Biodiversity and Wildlife
Airports can impact biodiversity in a number of ways, including loss or degradation of habitats and through impacts on wildlife of light and noise pollution.
Bird populations can both harm and be harmed by aircraft, and large flocking birds, particularly geese, are seen as a threat by airports regulator the CAA. In 2009, a plane over the Hudson River in the USA was brought down as a result of a flock of birds colliding with both aircraft engines, and in the UK over 2000 bird strikes are recorded annually. The CAA advises that steps should be considered to minimise bird populations as far as ten miles away from airports. Reducing the attractiveness of surrounding areas to large birds – for example by removing trees or other nesting habitat, or using noise and flare guns – can in turn impinge on other wildlife populations.
AEF members have sometimes been able to secure planning conditions to minimise the biodiversity impacts of airport developments, with airport operators agreeing to divert watercourses for example. In some cases the scale of biodiversity impacts that would accompany proposed airport developments have resulted in the plans being changed or – as in the case of the Thames Estuary airport proposal – contribute to the proposal being dropped altogether. In response to the recent proposal for an estuary airport advocated for by London Mayor Boris Johnson, the RSPB argued that “the construction of a Thames Estuary airport is likely to result in an unprecedented level of damage and destruction internationally recognised and protected coastal wetlands in the UK”.
The current proposal to build a second runway at Gatwick would require the removal of a large area of ancient woodland and so the Woodland Trust is involved in the campaign to oppose the current plans.
AEF’s planning handbook provides detailed advice on how biodiversity impacts should be addressed in the context of airport developments, including what kind of assessments should be undertaken.